Mind Matters News and Analysis on Natural and Artificial Intelligence

Monthly Archive December 2018

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Series of drawn human faces

No, Twitter Is Not the New Awful

It’s the Old Awful back for more. It’s the Town Without Pity we all tried to get away from
We need to decide: Is Twitter the telephone company (a communications platform), the newspaper (a publisher), or interconnected private gossip klatsches where anyone can say whatever they want, whatever ensues? Read More ›
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Colorful Parrot

Can genes predict which birds can learn to talk?

A recent study disappointed researchers, who really hoped to learn why humans use language
Parrots, it was found, have some unique, parrot-specific genes, whose origin is currently unknown, genes that may help them learn to mimic human sounds as well as bird calls. Read More ›
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If Computers Thought Like Fruit Flies, They Could Do More

But even with more sophisticated buzz, there remain "non-computable" things that a computer cannot be programmed to think

Recently, researchers discovered that fruit flies use a filter similar to a computer algorithm to assess the odors that help them find fruit, only the flies’ tools are more sophisticated: When a fly smells an odor, the fly needs to quickly figure out if it has smelled the odor before, to determine if the odor is new and something it should pay attention to,” says Saket Navlakha, an assistant professor in Salk’s Integrative Biology Laboratory. “In computer science, this is an important task called novelty detection. Computers use a Bloom filter for that, Navlakha, an integrative biologist, explains: When a search engine such as Google crawls the Web, it needs to know whether a website it comes across has previously Read More ›

Little boy playing with robot toy at home.

Consumers Were Not Buying Robots as Friends This Year

The market for drudgery busters remains strong. For dogs and pals, not so much
Some consumer robotics will surely find a place under the Christmas tree. The robotic vacuum cleaner market is healthy and expected to grow, in a world where the demand for vacuum cleaners is growing anyway, doubtless due to more urban lifestyles. Read More ›
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Can Big Data Help Make Your Book a Best Seller?

It’s more likely to help you picture your odds more clearly and clarify your goals
What does Barabási’s Big Data tell us that we couldn’t just guess? Well, for one thing, that there is a “universal sales curve” which means that a book’s only chance of making the list is shortly after publication. Read More ›
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How is Human Language Different from Animal Signals?

What do we need from language that we cannot get from signals alone?
Language, which is the rule-based use of abstract designators, is essential for abstract thought because only designators can point to things that have no concrete physical existence. Only human beings think abstractly, and language is what makes abstract thought possible. Read More ›
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1970s television and speakers

Science Confronts Credibility Issues?

Not to worry, prestigious researchers blame them on social media trolls and bots
And another thing: The researchers phoned the Seventies and asked them to please come back. Soon. Seriously, that’s the impression I get from reading a paper in PNAS, stemming from the National Academy of Sciences’ Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium November 2017 Read More ›
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Potted plants from above

That Plant Is Not a Cyborg

Or a robot. The MIT researcher's underlying idea is a good one but let’s not “plant” mistaken ideas
If plants could move around freely, they would move into the most beneficial lighting arrangement. They compensate for their rootedness by growing in the optimum direction and constantly repositioning their leaves. An MIT researcher has helped out a plant by fitting it with electronic sensors attached to robotic wheels. Read More ›
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Quantum Randomness Gives Nature Free Will

Whether or not quantum randomness explains how our brains work, it may help us create unbreakable encryption codes

When I was boy, my father explained free will and predestination to me: I dig a fence post hole. · Did I create the hole because of my own free will? · Or was the hole already there and I simply removed the dirt? If true, the hole was predestined. The question cannot be answered by examining the evidence. In philosophy terms, it is “empirically unanswerable.” That is the sort of stuff that philosophers debate. Religious people might point to scripture to support one conclusion over the other.1 In physics, however, quantum randomness offers a definitive answer to the question of predestination vs. free will—for subatomic particles. In the world of classical physics (Isaac Newton’s physics), it can be argued Read More ›

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Stephen Hawking and the AI Apocalypse

Can doomsday headlines, chasing fame, stand in for deep knowledge of a subject?
One thing a celebrity pundit can usually count on is an audience of media professionals who haven’t considered the problems carefully either and don’t want to. It is much easier and more profitable to market Doomsday than Levin’s Law. As always, the fact that laws governing the universe will eventually triumph is true but not news.   Read More ›
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Dogs Are Not as Intelligent as Seals?

That doesn't sound right to you? Putting aside the hoopla around IQ tests for furries and flipperies, there is a serious science question about what “intelligence” really is
Dog lovers may be surprised (and displeased!) by a recent study of animal intelligence that dismisses the intelligence of dogs, compared to that of marine mammals Read More ›
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McDonald's Drive through saying

McDonald’s, Meet McPathogens

What happens when the drive to automate everything meets the Law of Unintended Consequences?
I have a wager with a good friend that the self-order touch screen kiosks at McDonald’s will not last. The kiosks not only take longer to use, but are annoying. The idea of the kiosk may sound good on paper, but is a hassle in practice. And besides… Read More ›
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AI and the Future of Murder

If I kill you but upload your mind into an android, did I murder you or just modify you?
The sci-fi TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013– ) tackled this question in an episode titled “Self Control”.  Scientist Holden Radcliffe has an android assistant appropriately named Aida (Artificial Intelligence Digital Assistant). Together, they build a virtual world that people could be plugged into and uploaded into, called The Framework. Read More ›